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SHORT-RUN BOOKS - Book of One

February 2001
By CHERYL A. ADAMS


E-commerce IS changing the name of the book publishing/manufacturing game. Internet customers want their books right away, and they are willing to pay a premium for instant turnaround.

In reality—specifically the virtual one—the customer is paying for the convenience of shopping on the Internet. Interestingly, many books sold on the Web aren't usually marked down in price (in fact, book manufacturers admit that most Web products include the "acceptable" retail markup), and buyers pay the shipping charge.

But this Internet sale comes with great expectations. The book buyer is willing to pay, but when payment is only a click (and credit card) away, shipment of the product is expected to be almost as fast—especially when the book is advertised as being "in stock 24 hours." In the same way, e-customers expect instant information over the Web; they want instantaneous turnaround on their cyber order.

As those orders are clicked in (sometimes directly to the book manufacturer, bypassing the publisher completely), manufacturers must have the capability to satisfy the ultra-quick, time-to-market requirements. "When rapid delivery is expected with each order—especially in the non-inventory, e-commerce environment—an automatic process is critical. Immediate turnaround is an absolute requirement," states Jim Augustine, vice president of national sales at King of Prussia, PA-based Xyan.com.

In today's digital short-run book market, automatic turnaround is not a problem. Not even for quantities of one. Not even if the book is hard bound. Augustine says a digital file can be converted, printed and bound—soft or hard cover—cost-effectively and quickly, in as little as one minute for a soft-cover book (a little longer for hard bound, of course).

"Because the book blocks are the same, regardless of the binding, publishers are able to offer hard- and soft-cover books simultaneously, without investing in inventory," Augustine explains. On-demand output is then shipped to the publisher's distribution center for shipment or (in the case of Xyan.com) directly to the end user from the manufacturer, without becoming inventory.

And, without any inventory, publishers can sell books, printed on-demand, to fulfill existing orders.

Based on a "book of one" model, many of today's top digital book printers—including Xyan.com (which supplies digital, on-demand products for Banta), Quebecor World, Edward Brothers Book Manufacturing (EB), Integrated Book Technology (IBT/Global) and Lightning Source (a division of Ingrams), among others—are creating products one at a time (just in time), rather than creating inventory (just in case). The traditional short run of 100 to 500 copies has been shortened to less than 20.
 

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